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There’s no doubt that some of the benefits that come with hotel loyalty programs can be very enticing. Free breakfasts, room upgrades, guaranteed late check-outs, bonus points, and easier access to suites are just some of the many benefits that hotel loyalty programs dangle to tempt us into directing our spending in their direction…but with which hotel loyalty program should most people be trying to earn status?
The answer is actually a remarkably simple one – none of them.
Those of us immersed in the miles and points world can sometimes forget that we see things in a very different way to most people, and what suits our needs doesn’t necessarily suit most people.
Most people aren’t miles and points junkies, most people don’t spend 30+ nights a year in hotels, most people don’t care about earning points to use in Bora Bora or the Maldives, and most people can’t be bothered (or don’t have the time) to work out all the nuances of the individual hotel loyalty programs – they have better things to do.
What most people want is a competitive hotel rate at the destination they want to visit and an opportunity to save some money even if they’re not spending half their lives in hotel rooms.
That’s not what the traditional hotel programs have been designed to offer.
Most people should not be trying to earn hotel status with one of the major chains…..and here’s why:
Assuming that most people don’t usually stay in hotels for more than 20 nights a year (that’s not an unreasonable assumption is it?) these are the best statuses they can expect to *earn*:
- Marriott – Silver Elite
- Hilton – Silver (as they’re unlikely to be making 20 separate stays)
- Hyatt – Discoverist
- IHG Rewards – Gold Elite
None of these status levels offers any true, meaningful, benefits that would make a person’s stay considerably better or that would save them cash – the best most can hope for is a late checkout and a few bonus points.
Also, just to achieve these low (and mostly useless) levels of status, infrequent travelers would have to direct most (or all) of their hotel nights to one specific chain, and that’s not a good strategy for someone who doesn’t travel all that much. Concentrating on just one hotel chain may limit someone’s destination options and it may prevent them from booking cheaper alternatives – neither of those is conducive to saving money and being able to travel wherever you feel like going.
The Credit Card Option
Someone determined to reach mid-tier hotel status could always turn to credit cards for some help. Their options include:
a) Get a credit card that boosts their elite nights total
b) Get a credit card that offers mid-tier status outright
My question here is this: If you don’t travel all that much why would you bother with a credit card that only helps you along the way to the next status level when there are credit cards out there that offer you outright mid-tier status?
Getting a card that gives you status outright is clearly the way to go and, to that end, these are the better options
- The IHG Rewards Club Premier Card from Chase costs $89/year and offers IHG Rewards Platinum Elite status just for holding the card (reviewed here).
- The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card costs $95/year (rates & fees) and offers Hilton Honors Gold status just for holding the card (reviewed here).
Note: I realize that there are other cards that offer outright mid-tier hotel status (or higher) but they cost more than $95 and I’m not about to give an infrequent traveler the idea that they should be getting a premium credit card just so they have hotel status.
There are two issues here – firstly IHG Rewards Club Platinum status is not very useful at all (I have it so I should know) and secondly, now that you have status you should really be using it (you did just pay for it after all). But should most people be looking to maximize a hotel elite status that a credit card gives them?
Most people should be concentrating on visiting places they actually want to visit and booking hotels within their budget through sites and portals that save them the most money. Worrying about elite benefits should not come into the equation.
If by chance, this all results in someone booking directly with a hotel chain and it happens to be a hotel chain at which a credit card gets them some benefits that’s great…but maximizing those benefits shouldn’t be the priority for most people.
So How Does An Infrequent Traveler Save Money?
Independence is a huge asset when you’re looking to book a vacation because if you’re not tied to a single loyalty program, you have the freedom to book accommodation based on price and based on the amenities the accommodation choices are offering.
If you’re not chasing status with a hotel loyalty program (or desperately trying to justify the status a credit card gave you) you’re not limited to big-name hotels and resorts but instead, you can make the most of boutique hotels, B&Bs, home rentals (like AirBnB) and you can book by whatever means works best for you – you don’t have to book through a hotel chain’s own website.
All of the above should save most people at least a little money, but there is one other thing everyone should be considering – Hotels.com Rewards
Hotels.com is one of the biggest online hotel room vendors in the world and it runs a very basic but very useful rewards program – for every 10 nights booked through Hotels.com the rewards program gives users a free night. That’s it.
The value of the free night is equal to the average cost of the 10 nights spent to get the free night.
There are no blackout dates and Hotels.com offers over 500,000 hotels, apartments, and villas so the site is unlikely not to be able to offer a good number of properties wherever you’d like to visit…but there are a few other things you need to know too:
- The value of a free night does not include taxes and fees.
- You can redeem your free night for a night of greater value and pay the difference.
- You can redeem your free night for a night of lesser value and forfeit the difference.
- You can redeem only 1 free night for each night of your booking.
- You can redeem multiple free nights when you book a multiple-night stay. For example, if you’re booking a 7-night stay and have 5 free nights to redeem, you can use all of your free nights in the same booking and pay for only 2 nights, plus taxes and fees.
- If you cancel a refundable booking before the hotel or vacation rental’s cancellation deadline, your free night will be returned to your account within 1 hour. If you cancel your booking after the cancellation deadline, you will forfeit your free night.
- A fee of $5.00 will be applied to each reward night redeemed although that fee is waived if the nights are redeemed via the Hotels.com app or if you have the new Hotels.com credit card account.
For a traveler or family that doesn’t generally spend more than 20 nights a year away from home, Hotels.com Rewards can be a valuable money-saving option.
As an added boost, there is also a Hotels.com credit card which offers cardholders a “stamp” towards a free night (collect 10 stamps for a free night) for every $500 spent on the card.
The card doesn’t charge an annual fee, it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, it offers cardholders special benefits in the first year of card membership and it even gives cardholders complimentary cellphone coverage. For those who love the Hotels.com Rewards program, this may be a card worth considering (click for more details).
I think that we, the miles and points enthusiasts, can sometimes get a bit too caught up in our own world and forget that the bigger world around us is very different from ours. What works for us really doesn’t work well at all for most people and that’s where a program like Hotels.com Rewards comes in to play – it requires no real effort to participate, there are no nuances or tricks to learn and it doesn’t dictate where people can visit or dictate how much people have to spend.
If you take a close look at the legacy hotel rewards/loyalty programs it rapidly becomes apparent that there isn’t really that much value to be had from the low/mid-tier status levels…or at least not enough value that makes it worthwhile for an infrequent traveler to chase status.
I’m not suggesting that infrequent travelers should avoid booking directly with the big chains or that they shouldn’t bother with credit cards that offer hotel benefits (Hilton Gold status via the Surpass Card could be very useful)…and I’m also not suggesting that they should book exclusively through Hotels.com.
What I am suggesting is that most people should put the idea of hotel status to the back of their mind and concentrate on having great vacations at properties they’re excited to visit and that fall within their budgets – leave the status chasing to those who spend enough time in hotels to actually make the most of it.